Sports
2.1k voters

The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time

Updated January 27, 2020 38.4k votes 2.1k voters 20.4k views152 items

List RulesVote up the athletes who changed their sport forever, bringing major contributions each time they performed.

The most influential athletes of all time aren't just the best stars from their respective sports, but some of the most iconic individuals in the sports world. Whether they broke countless records or changed the way we all look at a specific sport, they influenced generations to come and will always be remembered at the top of their class. So, who do you think are the most influential athletes ever?

No matter the sport or discipline, these top athletes are true icons. Whether you're talking the New York Yankees great Babe Ruth or NBA GOAT Michael Jordan, the athletes listed here are far from your average sports stars. Take the legendary Deion Sanders, for example. Not only is he considered an NFL great, he's also an established professional baseball player—proving he's one of the greatest all-around athletes of all time. While he's a rare case in terms of athletes, others on this list of influential sports stars have contributed greatly to their sport. 

Now, check out the list of athletes below and vote up your favorites for the most influential of all time. You can also vote athletes down, as well as add other sports icons to the list. 

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    79

    Boris Shakhlin

    Dec. at 76 (1932-2008)

    BirthplaceIshim, Tyumen Oblast, Russia

    GenderMale

    Boris Anfiyanovich Shakhlin (Russian: Борис Анфиянович Шахлин; 27 January 1932 – 30 May 2008)...  more
  • 27

    BirthplaceLesnoy, Russia

    GenderMale

    Aleksandr Vladimirovich Popov (Russian: Алекса́ндр Влади́мирович Попо́в, born 16 November...  more
  • 28
    470
    391

    Larry Bird

    Age: 63

    BirthplaceWest Baden Springs, French Lick Township, Indiana, United States of America

    GenderMale

    Larry Joe Bird (born December 7, 1956) is an American former professional basketball player,...  more

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    #4 of 269 The Top NBA Players Of All Time#126 of 329 The Most Obnoxious Athletes

  • 29
    94
    51

    Georges Miez

    Dec. at 95 (1904-1999)

    BirthplaceTöss, Winterthur, Switzerland

    GenderMale

    Georges Miez (2 October 1904 – 21 April 1999) was a Swiss gymnast. He competed at the 1924,...  more
  • 30
    106
    62

    BirthplaceKarlsruhe, Germany

    GenderMale

    Oliver Rolf Kahn (German: [ˈɔlɪvɐ ˈkaːn]; born 15 June 1969) is a German former football...  more

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    #148 of 1,427 The Best Athletes Of All Time#55 of 1,295 The Best Soccer Players of All Time

  • 31
    142
    95

    BirthplaceBrandenburg an der Havel, Germany

    GenderFemale

    Birgit Fischer (born 25 February 1962) is a German kayaker, who has won eight gold medals over...  more
  • 32
    104
    61

    BirthplaceTorrance, California, United States of America

    GenderFemale

    Michelle Wingshan Kwan (born July 7, 1980) is a retired American figure skater. She is a...  more

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    #3 of 43 The Greatest Female Figure Skaters of All Time#1 of 23 The Greatest American Figure Skaters of All Time

  • 33
    115
    71

    BirthplaceSaas-Almagell, Switzerland

    GenderMale

    Pirmin Zurbriggen (born 4 February 1963) is a former World Cup alpine ski racer from...  more
  • 34
    80
    39

    BirthplaceBelgrade, Serbia

    GenderMale

    Novak Djokovic (Serbian: Новак Ђоковић, romanized: Novak Đoković, pronounced [nôʋaːk...  more

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    #485 of 583 The Greatest Entertainers Of All Time#3 of 216 The Greatest Men's Tennis Players of All Time

  • 35

    BirthplaceKristiansand, Norway

    GenderMale

    Andreas Thorkildsen (born 1 April 1982) is a retired Norwegian track and field athlete who...  more
  • 36
    82
    42

    BirthplaceStaaken, Germany

    GenderFemale

    Katarina Witt (German pronunciation: [ˈkataʁiːna vɪt]; born 3 December 1965) is a retired...  more
  • 37
    73
    34

    BirthplaceRussia

    GenderMale

    Alexei Yurievich Nemov (Russian: Алексей Юрьевич Немов; born 28 May 1976 in Barashevo,...  more
  • 38
    77
    38

    Lev Yashin

    Dec. at 61 (1929-1990)

    BirthplaceMoscow, Russia

    GenderMale

    Lev Ivanovich Yashin (Russian: Лев Ива́нович Я́шин, 22 October 1929 – 20 March 1990),...  more

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    #1 of 188 The Best Soccer Goalies of All Time#6 of 103 Coolest Soccer Players

  • 39
    118
    76

    BirthplaceZlatoust, Russia

    GenderFemale

    Lidiya Pavlovna Skoblikova (Russian: Лидия Павловна Скобликова; born 8 March 1939) is a...  more
  • 40
    64
    26

    BirthplaceMoscow, Russia

    GenderMale

    Sergei Kharkov AKA Sergej Charkov (born November 17, 1970) is a Russian gymnast, Olympic...  more
  • 41
    81
    42

    BirthplaceTielt-Winge, Belgium

    GenderMale

    Édouard Louis Joseph, Baron Merckx (Dutch pronunciation: [ˈmɛrks]; French: [mɛʁks]; born 17...  more
  • 42

    BirthplacePlovdiv, Yuzhen tsentralen, Bulgaria

    GenderFemale

    Stefka Georgieva Kostadinova (Bulgarian: Стефка Георгиева Костадинова; born March 25, 1965) is...  more
  • 43

    BirthplaceNové Město na Moravě, Czech Republic

    GenderFemale

    Martina Sáblíková (Czech pronunciation: [ˈmarcɪna ˈsaːbliːkovaː] (listen)) (born 27 May 1987)...  more

    More Martina Sáblíková 

    #3 of 30 The Best Speedskaters in the World#6 of 167 The Best Olympic Athletes in Speed Skating

  • 44
    103
    63

    BirthplaceDanvers, Massachusetts, United States of America

    GenderFemale

    Jennifer Beth Thompson (born February 26, 1973) is an American former competition swimmer and...  more

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    #77 of 240 The Best Female Athletes of All Time#460 of 670 Rank the Sexiest Current Female Athletes

  • 45

    BirthplaceOslo, Norway

    GenderMale

    Kjetil André Aamodt (born 2 September 1971) is a former World Cup alpine ski racer from...  more

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    #9 of 62 The Greatest Alpine Skiers of All Time#7 of 235 The Best Olympic Athletes in Alpine Skiing

  • 46

    BirthplaceRibe, Denmark

    GenderMale

    Björn Dunkerbeck (born 16 July 1969) is a professional windsurfer who has won Professional...  more
  • 47
    89
    50

    BirthplaceGarmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany

    GenderFemale

    Laura Dahlmeier is a German biathlete. Dahlmeier started in her first world cup races in the...  more

    More Laura Dahlmeier 

    #1 of 32 The Best Biathletes in the World Right Now#28 of 78 Who Is The Most Famous Athlete In The World Right Now?

  • 48
    76
    38

    BirthplaceKherson, Ukraine

    GenderFemale

    Larisa Semyonovna Latynina (Ukrainian: Лариса Семенівна Латиніна, Russian: Лари́са Семёновна...  more
  • 49
    89
    50

    BirthplaceSydney, Australia

    GenderFemale

    Elizabeth Alyse Cuthbert, (20 April 1938 – 6 August 2017) was an Australian athlete and a...  more

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    #28 of 49 The Most Influential Female Athletes of All Time#6 of 10 10 Celebrities Touched by Multiple Sclerosis

  • 50
    72
    34

    Hannes Kolehmainen

    Dec. at 77 (1889-1966)

    BirthplaceKuopio, Finland

    GenderMale

    Juho Pietari "Hannes" Kolehmainen (Finnish: [ˈhɑnːes ˈkolehmɑinen] (listen); 9 December 1889 –...  more